10 February 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 55 comments

I’ve often said that most judge books by their covers, as anyone who’s ever hung out at a singles bar knows. It’s also my primary reasoning for changing covers on some of my novels until I find one that resonates with my readership – as expressed in increased sales.

But never has it been more obvious that finding the right balance on a cover is critical as I’ve recently seen with Fatal Exchange.


WOW: Fellow author Hugh Howey just released a fascinating summary of what authors are earning. The result will surprise the hell out of you, as it did me, although it confirms what I’ve suspected for some time: ebooks are a MUCH larger segment of the market than thought.

NEW INTERVIEW: Worth a look. With me on fairly detailed craft questions.

NEWS: In our “last one out turn off the lights” B&N deathwatch, this news just in on the future of Barnes & Noble. I called 18 months in December, Konrath called 2014. Please, for those at home, no wagering.


Around the end of last month, I changed the cover for the FOURTH time in two and a half years. For the record, I liked all the prior covers, but never thought they had the requisite pizazz. I also made some classic newbie mistakes when I gave my illustrator guidance in the early days – I tried to get as many story elements conveyed with the cover as possible, which made it look like a collage. Here’s the first cover, which did service for the first 10 or so months:

Fatal Exchange-for webYou’ll note that everything and the kitchen sink are thrown in there – a Patek Philippe watch, a syringe, people running, female faces, Ben Franklin, a bicycle, a dagger, blood dripping from the lettering, a backdrop of a hundred dollar bill. The only thing missing was a panda and a clown, which I would have gotten to eventually. The book sold well, but I always wondered whether I’d made a mistake with the cover. The answer, as it turns out, was yes. Bluntly, it was terrible. Way too cluttered.

And so I had another cover made. This one simplified the elements to what I thought of as the basics: hundred dollar bills, blood.

fatal exchange13I wanted simplicity. “What’s the book about?” I imagined readers thinking, and I wanted to give them the primary plot element – a conspiracy involving counterfeiting hundred dollar bills, and a serial killer on the loose in Manhattan. So better, but still no cigar.

I then decided that what was necessary was an edgier, grungier look. Something more urban and visceral. So I had this one created:

Fatal Exchange Final (1) webI really dug it. I mean, you had creepy guy (serial killer) along with the money and some blood. Hey. What more could you wish for?

Well, it turns out I was completely missing the point. Probably because I’m a guy. A female friend of mine who read the book and absolutely loved it asked me why I had gone with those covers, and I laid out my point-by-point explanation. She thought about it, and then said something that was so obvious it was stupefying – something I’d managed to miss with each cover: Fatal Exchange is the story of a female bike messenger, first and foremost, who finds herself embroiled in A) a counterfeiting scheme, and; B) is targeted by a serial killer. In other words, I’d been so focused on the plot elements that make it a cool story, I’d completely missed that at its essence, it’s the story of Tess Gideon, the female messenger.

Once I figured that out (duh) I was able to focus on what the story was actually about. Tess’ saga. Her story. That led to a completely different approach, which you’ll find below. As an aside, Fatal was consistently ranking around #18K or so before the latest cover change. Since then, with no promo, it’s been averaging #3500-#4800.

All because of a cover change.

FatalExchange_Cover smallSo what’s the moral? Well, first of all, I’m a complete dork on my covers, obviously. Second, even the best pro designers can get it wrong unless you’re completely clear on what your book is about. Broad strokes. Not what the plot beats are, or what the cool twists are, but the essence of the story. I used three different designers, and all did the job I wanted them to do – but only the last one did the job that I should have done all along, which is to advertise WHAT THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY ABOUT. I know. That seems seminal.

What have we learned? That it’s important to visually let readers know what’s between the pages in as high concept, simple-a-manner possible. And that doing so can make the difference between slack and robust sales.

Can you guess what my exercise is going to be on my other covers? Right. What yours should be, too, preferably before you hire someone. Figure out what the story is, and then choose a theme that communicates it clearly. I think I nailed it with JET – it’s about a female ex-Mossad operative. The covers makes it clear: badass chick kicking butt. BLACK, too. Debauched Hollywood PI with a noir jones. But some of the others? Not so much. Fatal being an obvious one. Next one being Silver Justice, and probably also Upon A Pale Horse. Maybe the Assassin books at some point, although I think those pretty much say Assassin all over them.

It will be interesting to see whether new covers work miracles for those titles, too, but at this point, you could say I’m a believer. Oh, and the other take away for all you budding authors is…never give up. Don’t settle. Keep experimenting. Do not just shrug your shoulders and go, hey, I did as good a job as I could, and the book’s not selling, so F it. Never concede defeat.

Because in this business, sometimes persistence pays off.

End of sermon.



  1. Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 4:39 pm

    I think you might have just changed my life 🙂 I’m about to redesign some covers and this post has helped the penny drop! THANK YOU!

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 7:10 pm

      Good luck. Glad to help. Now go tell people to buy my crap.

  2. Carrie Parks the Walking Librarian
    Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Well done!!!

    Being a librarian, especially a high school librarian, when recommending books to others the covers make all the difference.

    Take your average teenager. The everyday teen would absolutely hate the first one. Too much going on. Most teens, especially boys, want something simple. A drug bust, a murder, a story of a bad boy… simple.

    The second one looks “too adult.” Not a bad thing for your general adventure story at all, but you would lose what is increasing every year… your teen readers.

    The third one is awesome! A sexy female, a seductive black jacket, a telling pose… a teen boy would be drawn to that in about .05 seconds and in my experience, so would girls who like action/adventure/dramas.

    It’s also great for whatever you call people in their 20’s these days and your experienced reader, as in the above paragraph, who like the same types of books.

    Thanks for your advice to those who may have a great book but don’t think past the cover. I can’t tell you how many great stories my “customers,” glaze over because the cover, well, sucks.

    I’m not the first to say I’m pretty much the opposite of a book snob. Sure I love Shakespeare and Steinbeck, but when I want to be entertained I want it fast, fun, enjoyable, and maybe an explosion or four. The cover is part of the sale.
    (though personally, my fav is number 3).

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 7:09 pm

      Picture’s worth a thousand words. Sometimes you have to stop thinking like an author, and start thinking like a reader.

      “What’s the story about?”

      When you can synthesize that into two or three words, that will tell you what your cover should portray.

  3. Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 6:26 pm

    I was just going to ask you how sales are with the new cover. Wow! That’s awesome. And with no ads. Even better.
    I happen to be reading Fatal Exchange now. I like the new cover way more than the others because like your female friend said, the story is about Tess. And now I can picture her while I read.
    I think you nailed it with the Jett & BlACK series. I do really like the Upon a Pale Horse cover though. I guess you could try a new one and if your sales improve go with that.
    If you make any change on the Assassin series, my only suggestion as a female reader would be to locate the hottest looking younger Hispanic guy you can find and use him on the cover with a gun. That way it still conveys “assassin story” but the guy peaks female interest. Women love El Rey. If you give them a panty-incinerating cover it may boost sales. Just an idea.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 7:08 pm

      Hot latin stud on cover for Assassin. Check. I’m easy…

  4. Micky Cocker
    Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 8:08 pm

    I totally agree about the Assassin Series . A dark brooding Hispanic with a ripped ( because El Ray keeps himself in perfect condition) sweaty body and a gun. Us girls like to visualise too

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 10:59 pm

      I’ll put a naked clown on the cover if I thought it would sell books. Brooding and dark or not.

      • Zoe York  –  Wed 05th Mar 2014 at 10:03 pm

        And this is why we love you. 🙂

  5. Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I liked the third cover but love the new cover. You may be tapping a whole new audience with it. Thanks for sharing the covers and the results of the change. I think my cover needs to change, but I’m waiting until all 3 books are out in the trilogy to make the switch.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 10:58 pm

      That’s probably wise. If I were to change the Assassin covers, I’d do them all at once to ensure uniformity.

  6. Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Great post. I love the new cover, but two and three were good too. I went through a similar situation. My first book had two objects thrown on it, a pink revolver and a pink cell phone. In my defense both items were used in the book, which is a cozy mystery. Goes to show you what happens when your a newbie and you don’t have a ton of cash. I found another cover artist for my second book and I liked it a lot, but it made me think of a english sleuth, not one in the good ole US of A. Third one I hated so much that I went out to buy another image. It was only after searching on Amazon that I found the cover artist I use now. I always liked the vector cartoon images, and for my senior sleuth cozy mystery it was a perfect fit. I had all of my covers re-done and now have a signature look. Sometimes you need to trust cover artists too as many of them come up with concepts you might never have thought of. As always good luck with you books Blake.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 10:58 pm

      Thanks, Madison. In this case, I’m letting the readers decide, and so far they like it about…4 times better than any of the others.

      I’ll take it.

      I’m uploading a new one of Silver Justice tonight to see if it does anything. It’s all an experiment, obviously…

  7. Mon 10th Feb 2014 at 11:41 pm

    Great post. I am a bit of a geek about covers, and love the ‘experiment’ results here.

  8. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 12:55 am

    It’s true the last cover is awesome. There are some other elements that help as well – more than one font, a little text overall, more pleasing color combination and cool vs warm color contrast – but the girl really makes an emotional connection; landscapes can do this too, but flat, object based covers like the first few can’t – they’re too cerebral, trying to pass information. A book cover is about hooking instant emotion, and nothing can do that like a person’s face (especially if they are showing emotion themselves). The bad news is, if you use any stock photo models, they’ll show up on other covers – I routinely see the same model on a handful of covers – but while frustrating, that doesn’t actually hurt book sales any, especially since it’s becoming more common. But you could always hire a model off craigslist to pose (or go downtown and walk around, when you see someone is “perfect” for your cover, ask if they’d model for you for $100 or something).

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 1:47 am

      I actually hired a model for my BLACK series, and I think I’ll be headed in that direction for my redo of JET, whenever that comes about. Probably for the Assassin series, too. It seems like the only way to guarantee continuity and get what I want.

      As to walking around and making girls offers, there are a host of restraining orders and local ordinances that discourage me from doing that. But a good idea.

  9. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 7:25 am

    Interesting post and comments. Looking at the Waterstones Book Shop table of books here in the UK over the last three years to gain ideas about covers has shown me two key points. Unless you are a well known author where your name will be recognised then two approaches … an awful discordant but noticeable cover such as J K Rowling’s Red Black and Yellow Hardback cover for her ‘Casual Vacancy’ book or as your last cover … however non PC … a woman on a cover as maybe a woman on a cover will attract both potential men and women readers for different reasons. Given I understand 70% of fiction is read by women this may also be a way to go. The cover of my first long book ‘Look no touch’ will certainly have my main female fantasy character on the cover. Primary colours red black and white are also in my view very powerful attractors. One from best covers to me from the past Freddie Forsyth’s ‘No Comebacks title in red text, white back ground Ace of hearts playing card with a bullet hole you could feel on the cover.

  10. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 11:34 am

    Cool. I never paid much attention to this book. Now I’m going to pick up a copy. Sounds interesting.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 1:21 pm

      You might like it. Bit gritty, but unique for me, in the sense that it follows two apparently disparate story lines and dovetails them in the denouement.

      Also was my first published release. Although I’d prefer if its merits were judged on the story and writing than the timing in my production schedule…

      And it’s only .99 today, in conjunction with a BB promo. That should get it some lift, I’d think.

  11. vrabinec
    Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 12:57 pm

    She kinda looks like she’s grabbing her own boob….which makes the cover even hotter than if she was reaching for a gun. Yeah, I can see why it’s selling.


    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Get your mind out of the gutter. Although, I never imagined she had a gun. There’s that.

      Hey, as long as it sells, I’m all over that. I’d put a basket of kitties on the cover if I thought that would shift units.

  12. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 2:37 pm

    This is such a timely post for me. Sales are slumping on some of my books that are in a very popular genre. I’m thinking of mixing up my covers and going for something sexier and edgier. Thanks for inspiring me to go ahead and experiment and for giving me food for thought about what the most important story elements are.

    BTW, I like all your covers here, but the current one is really eye catching.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 5:02 pm

      Heat it up some. That seems to be the trend these days.

  13. Eric Lin
    Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 2:39 pm

    When I saw the new cover, I thought “why did he put someone who looks more like Jet on the cover?” Ok the story is about Tess, but how is she in danger? I would’ve liked to see, in the distant background, the two Asians on one side and the serial killer on the other.

    After reading the first two Assassins and the first two Jets, I had already decided to read all your other books regardless of cover. If I hadn’t, however, I am not sure if the new cover of FE would help; I actually prefer the original “kitchen sink” one. Your sales prove me wrong, but how can you judge the effectiveness of the new cover if you also lower the price?

    Anyway, I think I’ll read either Zero Sum or Jet III next.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 5:01 pm

      I only lowered the price for today. The sales I reported are for the last 12 days, at full price. So it’s actually easy to track the instant change that the cover made in sales.

      I’d hit JET 3. It’s a good one. Although I have to say, Fatal is one of my top rated and biggest selling books. You’d probably enjoy it, but hey, what do I know?

  14. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Interesting. Not really happy with the result as a designer of the previous cover but that’s a good post. As a guy I would not buy the new cover because it’s too feminine but different markets have different needs.

    Keep experimenting like this!

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 5:46 pm

      I completely understand. I love the cover you did. Still do. But the sales numbers speak for themselves. Perhaps we have the wrong chromosomes for this market…

      • Adrijus G.  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:01 pm

        Yeah, I’m more of action-movie-poster type guy.. gotta be more conscious of this thing, good lesson for indies and designers.

        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:05 pm

          Yup. If the market’s 90% female for a genre, I defer to the sacred feminine in all things.

          • Adrijus G.  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:08 pm

            Makes me wonder how much of total readers are women/men and if this don’t apply to genre like horror too..

          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:38 pm

            I read somewhere that across all genres it’s something like 70% female, if not higher, because if you pull out non-fiction, which is mostly male, the numbers would jump into the 80% or higher.

            I think it also depends upon where you are in your career. If the cover is the only thing the reader knows about you, and is going to determine whether or not they’re interested in reading you based solely on the cover, I think you’d be best off thinking about the female taste. If you have a presence in your target genre, it’s probably not all that important. And if you’re writing male-dominated genres, like sci-fi, it doesn’t matter at all.

            Of course I could also be completely wrong.

          • Madison Johns  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:53 pm

            Since women buy more books, supposedly, it’s strange that they choose to buy more books from male authors as apposed to female ones in your genre. Of course men could be perceived as edgier than women also.

          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 7:58 pm

            Not that strange. It’s more than compensated for by them buying far more romance titles from women. The top grossing authors I know, with the exception of Hugh Howey, are all romance or NA (with strong romantic themes).

            Perhaps it’s just that far more thriller authors are male, thus that’s most of that pool. Far more romance authors are female, so ditto.

  15. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:31 pm

    It would be nice if Amazon let authors know the gender ratios of who is buying their books. Ages would be good too. On my first novel all the 5 star reviews I got on Goodreads were from older ladies. That’s nice to know.
    As a female reader I see the new cover as Tess is a strong, young woman, but the way she’s holding her jacket implies she’s scared of something. She’s trying to protect herself.
    I looked at all your other covers too. I remember always thinking the Delphi Chronicle one I’d get around to reading last. Now I know why. I’ve never even read the book description. I just looked at the cover and thought it was some kind of right wing Republican thing. (No offense to my fellow Republicans.) Just saying. It didn’t look like something I’d enjoy, but I knew I’d eventually read it because I plan to read all of your books.
    That being said, if I wasn’t familiar with any of your books and I was just browsing, trying to decide which to start with, I’d probably purchase Jet or Fatal Exchange first because those covers draw me in most.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 6:39 pm

      Jet far outsells any of my other books. I think the combo of strong female protag with effective cover art is a home run on those.

      I’ll be changing Delphi within the next few months. It’s long overdue.

  16. Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for the post. You don’t get enough credit for the transparency and solid advice you divulge.

    I am currently re-working my covers for my series (mid-stream–I am about to publish book 4 out of 7). I appreciate you performing this little experiment.

    Keep this up, and I might just become a huge fan-boy. Not just of your fiction, but your posts/your contributions on Kboards.

  17. Robert Jones
    Wed 12th Feb 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Russell,

    I totally agree with Mr. Michael concerning the solid advice you give…and want to express my own thanks for the things I’ve learned here over the past year.

    The current post about cover designs is right on the money. I had a more detailed cover in mind until recently myself and everything I’ve read about ebook covers has lead me to the conclusions you’ve so deftly illustrated here.

    The collage cover certainly appeals to my own sense of design–and probably would’ve worked well in another time, or even on a physical book. But when it’s reduced to thumbnail size on a computer screen, all that detail is just going to be a blur, no single, strong image popping out to grab the reader.

    What bugged me a bit at first was th fact that the cover with the manacing glare of the killer not working. It’s certainly large enough. And how does someone who doesn’t read the book not understand that this isn’t what the book is really all about? Then it hit me. Manacing bastards who would kill to be rich is a cliche. People see it so much, there’s nothing fresh about that image.

    On the other hand, it seems a sexy woman in black never goes out of fashion. It speaks to an urge that’s primal. It may be an image of the main character, but I’m thinking that comes secondary to the sex appeal…which is why sex sells.

    I won’t go so far as to say it’s the only thing that sells. Just look at the evening news and how it speaks to other primal urges of fear and violence for a clue.

    So my research–and design experience–combined with this post, informs me that the design of e-covers needs to be simple, center stage, large enough to be recognizable in thumbnail size, and it needs to hit something primal in the gut, heart, or libido within the basis of that design.

    All stories are about human nature. Figuring out the strongest emotion connected with your story, or main character’s journey, and playing that up center stage on the cover in a way that captures the emotion of your words in a single image, expressing what that story is about in its most primal, even sinful, nature. That’s a cover design that might make the reader pause while sifting through the fluffery, or stagnant imagery of stock photos surrounded by bold type and dripping blood.

    • Adrijus G.  –  Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 4:12 pm

      Woman on the cover in that pose is also pretty cliche. It is just better for certain target market, and this case it matches the market better. So you’re not really right about that, there is no difference here..

      • Robert Jones  –  Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 5:32 pm

        Hi Adrijus,

        Good points. I was generalizing in terms of cover designs and striking an emotional chord more than I was directing my comments at “Fatal Exchange,” or the “Jet” covers for that matter…which are central to the main character and exactly what she does, as well as being sexy. So it becomes a winning combination and an effective cover design for those books. The fact that these are outselling all of RB’s other books testifies to this, plus should really give everyone a huge clue as to the how and why behind these things.

        I’m not saying selling a book, or anything else, is as simple as defining something as primal as sex and creating a cover around that notion alone. Believe me, I’ve done that in other markets where, for example, a magazine wanted to pretty much whore out and just throw sex at an audience to increase sales. It appeals to a certain market in a raw form, but those aren’t always the sort of people who sit around reading novels. So here, the design has to be something more–even it it’s sexy looking by nature.

        And I think Russell already covered those points in his initial post. My point being, since sex is primal, and therefore universal, it becomes a very strong emotional lure…as do other sorts of primal emotions often played up by the media and advertising industries.

        Is it easy to always hit on a winning image that can strike an emotional chord and encompass what our books are all about? Hell no. But that’s why these discussions are valuable because they give folks a basic ballpark to shoot for.

        Someone said there is no such thing as a bad idea. But few first ideas a great ones. We sort of have to bounce them off the wall, other people, or learn by trial and error. As Russell said, you just keep going, moving forward and making progress. That’s how we learn. That and by sharing our experiences 🙂

        • Robert Jones  –  Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 8:38 pm


          Adrijus–Didn’t realize you had designed the serial killer cover until I read through all the posts. As previously stated, it bugged me (probably from a guy perspective) that this one didn’t sell. And I’m also learning from everyone else’s successes and mistakes and hopefully figure out/add something constructive.

          Perhaps “cliche” was not the most constructive term, however, a viscious man killing for money and people being overly used to viscious behavior over money was not enough on its. The design is strong and central, but why didn’ it sell otherwise?

          Believe me, I’ve been trying to find a more satisfactory answer for myself, both as a guy and an artist. I think after finishing my reading of all the above posts tonight and getting an array of opinions, I have a better answer, which I’ll share for whatever it’s worth.

          I love the menacing glare, but maybe it comes down to the question of what he’s glaring at…money. There is no personal threat, no victim. Many people seem to be responding to the woman on the current cover because she seems to be trying to hide, protect herself–even if we can’t see exactly what’s making her feel at a glance. Perhaps the not knowing is part of the lure. She certainly looks vulnerable. Put that glaring look of the serial killer behind her as his potential victim, and she wouldn’t merely look vulnerable, she wouldd appear to be in mortal danger. And the glare would be directed at a person instead of just a pile of cash.

          That would be my best take at this point for whatever it’s worth.

          • Russell Blake  –  Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 8:48 pm

            Well, Robert, the book sold with that cover. I just wanted to try something new and different, and the new cover, which focuses on the central character rather than plot elements, seems to resonate more with readers. The lesson I learned in all this is that if a reader connects with the central image in the half second they spend on it, they’re more likely to do whatever else it is that they do that results in them clicking, “Buy.”

            FWIW, I love Adrijus’ take, and had him do a bunch of my other covers. I also recommend him with some regularity. He gave me a wonderful execution based on the story I told him – any shortfall in vision is more attributable to my failing to grasp that the story is first and foremost about Tess than any shortcoming of his.

          • Ken  –  Fri 14th Feb 2014 at 9:31 am

            “There is no personal threat, no victim.”

            Robert—Think you’re onto something there. Years ago, Adam Sandler said that his first lead role movie, Billie Madison, didn’t do as well as he thought it could have due to his character being motivated by money. After that, he started crafting characters with more compassion towards others. Financially (IMO), his movies have done well due to audiences having something to identify with besides personal gain.

      • Russell Blake  –  Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 8:50 pm

        Exactly. Or perhaps it’s just that it’s attracting an entirely different segment of that market than any of the other covers did. Who knows? It’s all a crapshoot, and there are no constants.

        • Adrijus G.  –  Fri 14th Feb 2014 at 10:24 am

          To be honest, I don’t think this is much about cover being in sync with the story, but more about being different than usual genre cover. That woman cover stands out more from the other covers not because it was greatly executed technically (it isn’t.. ) or because it matches the story (no one knows the story before reading it) – it might just be different enough between other covers in the genre. While older ones sold, they probably already captured most of the readers there and this one came in with fresh look which ALSO happened to cater better to female readers. Would it perform as well as it does now if most of the covers in the genre had a woman as central figure in the cover etc? I highly doubt it. Then the menacing guy would stand out most then. Seems like two multiplying factors came over (new cover that is different AND captures different part of market) and that brought up sales.

          Anyway, that is just my 2 cents.. just speculating..

          Looking forward to see more tests with future covers. This is a fluctuating thing I don’t think it will ever be figured out but this is cool insight. We need more examples and tests, that will be great to see.:)

          • Robert Jones  –  Fri 14th Feb 2014 at 11:54 am

            We do need more test covers. It’s fun to speculate and try to figure these things out, but it’s not exactly a tried and true method unless something proves itself time and again.

            I’m attempting to look at the parallels between fiction and art and hope that what holds true for one medium might hold true for the other. But yeah, no one does know what the cover has to do with the book before reading it. Who is to say the menacing guy isn’t the main character, a guy who is will to do anything to satiate his greed, or expensive habits? Who can say he isn’t his own worst enemy, who ultimately victimizes himself?

            Could be that a more helpless victim is appealing to the market. Or maybe that a market mostly made up of women, they can just better identify with a female lead in this case. In fiction, showing the main character in immediate trouble is a hook, which supports the image of the vulnerable woman attempting to hide within the folds of her jacket. But who can really say for certain at this point.

            I can hold off on my own cover for a while longer. Meantime, it’ll be very interesting to watch Russell and see what happens. No pressure intended…LOL! But then, I’ve always watched the guy because he’s smart and doggedly persistent, which seems to be paying off 🙂

  18. Ken
    Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 10:15 am

    “Since then, with no promo, it’s been averaging #3500-#4800. All because of a cover change.”

    Just checked the Amazon ranking for Fatal Exchange. Currently it’s at #469. Looks like you may be onto something.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Oh, that’s an artifact of a Bookbub promo. It will gradually fade to the thousands soon enough.

  19. Thu 13th Feb 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks so much for your insights. Interesting to see how many others also prefer your cover 3 ( as I do) but sales are obviously the bottom line. I’m digesting all of this as someone reckons my latest book cover is all wrong and fails to convey the essence of the story.

  20. Tue 18th Feb 2014 at 2:52 am

    Oh I think this is what I needed! I’ve been trying to convey too many elements on my cover and it’s so text heavy. I’m even thinking of renaming the book just to lighten that up. Thanks heaps for that. Does it gall you that you had to pay for a cover three times to get it right?

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 18th Feb 2014 at 2:32 pm

      I have no problem paying as many times as I need to in order to find the right cover. The investment, over time, more than pays for itself, whereas sticking with a cover that’s not maximizing a book’s sales costs whatever you “saved” many times over. Penny wise…

  21. James Berry
    Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 10:06 am

    I think the key for me was in finding a designer who developed four drafts from the beginning for me, I knew I could work with them and the final design is something I’m proud of (see it at http://www.jdandj.com ). Of course you’ll need to check their portfolio to ensure their style of design works for the concept of your own book but the development within the draft stages really helped me. Thanks, James

  22. Alice Kober
    Thu 07th Sep 2017 at 5:42 pm

    I am an adult fiction collection librarian. Thanks so much for showing the progression of your book covers. I am going to use these in a talk on book covers I’m giving to a writer’s group this weekend–crediting you all the way, of course.
    Covers are what sells books, but I see so many bad covers. form indie-published authors. None of yours were bad, of course, but the last cover draws me in the most and makes me want to learn about this woman’s story.

  23. David Leemon
    Sun 22nd Apr 2018 at 12:07 pm

    I think they are all good covers, and I like the final one, but the penultimate one is the one I think would make me most likely to buy the book. I’ve read lots of books where the pretty lady on the cover does not reflect the contents of the book, so I’m a little bit suspicious when I see one. But the guy with the bloody money makes me think that this just might be interesting.

    But, I can’t argue with the numbers. I guess it’s all a gut instinct thing.

  24. Sun 21st Apr 2019 at 9:09 am

    Personally I’d be attracted more by the creepy guy cover, but I’ve become jaded on female protagonists in a lot of modern stories. Putting creepy guy’s crackle effect over her would dispel the ‘it’s going to be another YA Romance’ effect.


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